A View From the Bench by Judge Anne Hirsch

In deciding on an appropriate and interesting for this article the term CHANGE immediately came to mind.  So sitting at home on a cold and quiet afternoon away from court, I checked Webster.com for some guidance and this is some of what I found.  First, CHANGE can be a noun or a verb, and the transitive verb is defined as “to make different in some particular;” “to make radically different;” “to replace with another;” or “to give a different position, course, or direction to.”

Some synonyms listed related to the term CHANGE include:

Alter, make over, modify, revamp, , metamorphosis, transformation, , adjustment, modulation, tweak, redesign, redo.

I leave it to the reader to choose an appropriate term, but I will go out on a limb and say that it is an understatement that the Thurston County Superior Court bench has undergone a tremendous amount of change in the past several years,  and the years ahead promise to be full of additional change.  In 2012 alone our court observed the retirements of three respected and long-serving judges:  Judge Christine Pomeroy, Judge Paula Casey and Judge Tom McPhee.  With those retirements our court continued to lose, among other things, a significant amount institutional history (coming on the heels of the other recent retirements of Judges Strophy and Hicks).

While not ignoring the losses created by these retirements, we have three highly capable, talented, smart, energetic and hardworking new judges joining our bench.  Judge Jim Dixon joined the bench earlier this year, bringing with him many years of criminal defense work (among other things) and community involvement on various civic projects.  In early January two others will formally join our bench:  Erik Price, who brings with him deep connections in the community, 20 years of legal work primarily in civil matters, and, like Judge Dixon, many ties to civic organizations in the community including the TCBA.   Chris Schaller brings with her, in addition to her years of respected work as a Family and Juvenile Court Commissioner, years of general practice primarily in the areas of criminal and family law; like each of the judges with whom she will serve, she also brings a long term connection to and concern for our community.  I speak for all of my colleagues in welcoming our newest Judges to the bench.  By the time Judges Schaller and Price are sworn in, we will have a fairly transformed bench.

Early in 2013 a new Family and Juvenile Court Commissioner will also join our court.  As many of you may already know, over forty people applied for this important position.  The Board of Judges was impressed with the high quality of applicants and we are excited about bringing on a new Commissioner to preside over some of the very critical work done at Family and Juvenile Court.  A Court does not often have the opportunity to hire a Commissioner and we are mindful of the change any new judicial officer will undoubtedly bring.  We view the hiring of a new Commissioner as an opportunity to continue to improve our service to the public in an area that encompasses a significant portion of the court’s work, and often the only point of contact with the justice system for much of the public.  Our Unified Family and Juvenile Court has an excellent reputation statewide as a court committed to using best practices and that will remain our commitment.

Yet another change our court is instituting is a streamlining of the ex parte procedures and a reduction of office hours at both Main Campus and FJC, which is something we have delayed considering for a long time.  While our court is committed to serving the public well and to being available and accessible,   we simply cannot continue to ignore the daily and cumulative cost, to staff and to the bench, of continuing to function at a 100% level with well less than 100% staffing.  What that means is that, among other things, attorneys and their staff will notice some changes in availability of court staff during the work day.  It is our hope that neither of these changes will significantly or negatively impact attorneys or the public, and will at the same time provide staff with additional uninterrupted work time to accomplish their core duties for the court and the public.

Change in the way many of us do our work will also occur with the anticipated opening of the ARC later this summer.  For many,  many months, our Court has been working, along with our justice system partners, to create and streamline processes for court appearances, filing of documents and many related matters.  We are installing a new video appearance system and are reviewing how to bring our courtrooms into the “modern age” with use of appropriate technology.  Our court has also participated in a state wide work group to  institute a case management system –as I write this article it is unclear what may result from the hard work many contributed (in addition to their regular duties) to that project.  What is more clear is that each of these anticipated court process changes can and will only happen  because of the hard work and dedication of many people, both within the court and elsewhere.

As we as a bench continue to assess and, as needed, change processes, we will continue to work with our many stakeholders to minimize inconvenience and disruptions to your work.  However our court, like most, has lost staff and resources over the years beginning in 2008.  For a time we have been able to hobble along, adding more to each of our plates and still meeting our benchmarks, self-imposed and otherwise.  We now know that it can no longer be “business as usual”.

Our bench, those just beginning and those who have been here for longer amounts of time, is committed to being well trained, efficient, and accessible to do the important work for the public we were elected to perform.  We also remain open to hearing, and addressing, your comments and concerns.  As we begin this New Year, let us each commit to being part of the solution, to working hard to improve our justice system and our community, and to being open to change.

Before I conclude these somewhat rambling comments I want to offer my thanks and appreciation, for my colleagues on the bench, for the court staff who work so hard to allow the court to perform its important work for the public, and to the attorneys, private and public, who serve the public.   The times ahead of us will be challenging in many ways, but will present many opportunities for each of us to contribute to the court moving ahead to a future none of us clearly yet understand.  There are many ways for you to participate and I encourage each of you to find a way to do so.   Please contribute so we can continue to provide the best service possible to the public.

Finally, some thoughts to ponder:

“Change is the law of life.  And those who look only to the past or present are certain to miss the future.”  John F. Kennedy

“Any change, even for the better, is always accompanied by drawbacks and discomforts.”  Arnold Bennett

“You must be the change you wish to see in the world.”  Mahatma Gandhi

“Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better, it’s not.”  Dr. Seuss, The Lorax

Jill CarterA View From the Bench by Judge Anne Hirsch